Net time eyebeam:  stretching corporeal conduction

        Toward exposing my aspirations while first making a mild disclaimer, I begin with three quotations as constellation:

        Bill Viola:  "Value judgments are destructive to our proper business,  which is curiosity and

        E.M. de Melo e Castro:  "On the whole, a verbi-voco-sound-visual-color- movement complex
        and animated image is created calling for a total  kinesthetic perception".

        Butch Morris:  "In other words, constant preparation—preparation for  the next, and the next
        for the next—for something we did not hear and  for something we have never heard".

        Generally, I wish to consider as integral what has happened mechanically and aesthetically in hypertext [also known, through Espen Aarseth's research, as cybertext], rather than focus criticism against it.  The pressing matter now, from a creative point of view, is interface design.  Who controls the computer "switches", and what is available within those switches, controls how we live and invent.  How we really want to absorb, manipulate and output materials are considerable decisions we face at the present time.
        "Terminals" of one form or another will always abound:  games, movies, news, the equivalent of television programs and some type of VR (or interactive cyber-reality) domains will be readily available in the coming years.  Raising the bar on software standards gives us an opportunity to progenerate our digital possibilities (and status of culture) and the arts rather than stifle them.  It is imperative that a versatile integrated "system" is developed so that complex content may be learned and delivered.  One voice without sophisticated programming abilities cannot in itself raise the standards on what we have available to us at present, but hopefully a poetic viewpoint may provoke further discussion and thinking within the subject.
        Many conceptualizations and theories surrounding hypertext are based on its cognitive and visual attributes toward stimulating absorption and construction.  New directions for electronic text intensify their attention to the ear (sound) and to hand-craft (to expand previous aesthetic aspects of visuality).  Advancing these dimensions will make forms of interactivity less like the passivity of television and other mass-media, and perhaps less "artificial" than what we have seen so far.
        Soundtracks and what I'd like to call hyper-sound (interlinked layers of sound) are basically absent from much of digital literature.  [Notable exceptions include:  GRAMMATRON, The Hootenany Manifestation, ubu web, Shockzone, and work by Sally Harbison, Christine Baczewska, and Loss Pequeno Glazier.]  When present, they most often serve as ambient backdrops, sound-bites, or direct recitation of a written work.  An energetic approach to these potentially interconnected materials is in order.
        Distinctions between photographic representation and rendered by-hand or touch based imaging also need further consideration.  The folk-imagination and other practical qualities (i.e. matrixed lyricism with social, spiritual, and cultural relevance) of a text such as William Blake's Illuminated Books—etched into copper plates by hand two hundred years ago—have yet to be matched in the poesis of today's innovations.  With our stylus pens and hexidecimal systems we accept and enjoy completely different methods and processes than Blake.  Yet the possibilities for output are basically the same, except that Blake had no way to electronically transmit his renderings.  To be clear, however, I am far less interested in imposing an aesthetic than I am interested in, to borrow another phrase in Butch Morris' "Notes on Conduction", "the creation of a medium that redefines itself and the spirit of quality—a quality that radiates unique properties" (8).
        A shift in hypertext's priorities leads to a blending of emphases, old and new.  "Cyberspace" does and does not demand for the artist a radically new appearance of text.  Thus, today's condition of electronic texts, where most evidence of human voice and hand are ostensibly absent, seems unusual; we seem to have advanced and not advanced.  Even if mind and machine create code, thus hypertext, the artist also has the ear, the heart, the line, syllable, body and breath to contend with in their representation.  Defining "conduction", Morris writes, "Using a vocabulary of signs and gestures, many within the general glossary of traditional conducting, the conductor may alter or initiate rhythm, melody, harmony, not to exclude the development of form/structure, both extended and common, and the instantaneous change in articulation, phrasing, and meter.  Indefinite repeats of a phrase or measures may now be at the discretion of the new Composer on the Podium" (10).  This model of conduction both historically echoes and serves up new metaphors for hypertext.  The position of the conductor may be placed on either or both users and authors; the podium is the "terminal".  Physical gestures are used to activate different layers and arrangements and configurations of textual elements.
        Graphical and other design elements enabled by the computer are indeed monumental.  The age of mechanical reproduction is going strong, but all of these considerations do not preclude the loss of other aesthetic values:  spoken or folk elements, or the equal power of the hand to convey messages as do the mind and eye.  The beauty of it, and a primary motivation for me, is the fact that pluralistic methodologies are availableJohn Cayley argues for silent reading as an important mode of resistance in hypertext [see "Beyond Codexpace:  Potentialities of Literary Cybertext" (Visible Language 30.2) and "HYPERTEXT / CYBERTEXT / POETEXT" (online)], and Michael Joyce uses the trope of silence as a counterpoint to noise (drawing our attention to both) [see "So Much Time, so Little to Do", (Of Two Minds:  Hypertext Pedagogy and Poetics)], and I believe quietude and machinated imagery do not maximize potentials of the computer.  In the non-monolithic ideal I just spoke of, this is perfectly acceptable:  interface and software parameters are still a primary concern to us all.
        My background is in poetry, print and electronic publishing, music, and literary criticism.  Poetry has always in effect "opened" into multitudes of "texts".  That this process, poetry's intrinsic opening into other texts, is facilitated by the use of digital media only strengthens my confidence in synthesizing the two forms, and using poetry (digital and otherwise) to envision what systems might embody in the future.  Variable layers of texts, soundings, visualizations, and interpretations of text can be engaged by the reader on the computer screen:  interactive exploration of what is inside a text, and what a text is inside of.
        The Web synthesizes graphical (color), animated, and sound elements in addition to what might be the "written" text itself.  What this means for poetry in terms of form is relatively straightforward.  Language—its principle vehicle—is no longer lodged on a fixed, soundless page.  As a result of this other—computerized—language, it inhabits a flexible, dynamic, and transmittable multiplex of circuitry which allows built-in links, intricate graphical components, soundtracks, and other capabilities, such as various forms of animation.  The vividness of literary activity as it extends to the present is charged with additional elements.
        Changes in the media we use for the transmission of poetic materials alters its appearance and form, possibly rescuing it from becoming a redundancy in the coming industreality.  We all have the challenge of getting somewhere that we are not.  The best viewpoint I have come across with regards to imagining an ideal for cyberspace is Ladislao Pablo Györi's description of a "Virtual Poetry Domain".  In Visible Language 30.2, Gyori writes:

        Györi's vision offers and represents a progressive redefinition for our work, encompassing multiple priorities.  Technology allows a world where networks realize "virtual teleportations of subjects to VP-based computers anywhere".  Such a scenario is, to some degree, in place (if one suspends the reality that computer culture is a mainly Western, far from "global" phenomenon, and that Virtual Poetry of any type is far from being a pervasive form).  In promoting creativity, blending of language, sounds, and images—allowing the synthesis of these forms to develop as the culture does around it—we may cultivate "a new era in the general poetic creation, freeing the human imagination from any real constraint" as envisioned by Györi. (163)  Györi's "three-dimensional constructions" represent a real beginning towards redefining visually-based syntax for language.  Important research in this area is also being conducted by Matthew Kirschenbaum, whose work also considers "post-alphabetic" textuality, and others.  Combination and application of Györi's and Kirschenbaum's ideas with explorations into sound mapping (see Iain Mott and Jim Sosnin), and gesture at the User Interface (see Edward Altman, Peter Anderson, Wen Gao, Nobuo Hataoka, Christoph Maggioni and others) would radically alter  our present conceptions of hypertextuality.  As more integrated systems are developed, post-immersive, sensorially driven texts (eye-ball tracking, or voicings and blinks to make links) may meet the demands of the status quo.
        The authority we see a current wave of Web TV advertisements assigning to the Internet surely indicates an expected merging of graphical networks.  Perhaps culture therein can be programmed.  Adaptability as a fundamental feature of hypertext is illustrated over the course of the last decade's research.  Because of technological developments which have increased the visuality of texts a proportionate amount of the research in this area has occurred, typefied by Michael Joyce's mantra "Hypertext is, before anything else, a visual form" (19), and belief that, "Hypertext vindicates the word as visual image and reclaims its place in the full sensorium" (206).  As the mechanisms which process digital materials have changed, so have the ways texts have looked.  It can be anticipated that this increase in visuality to texts is going to be extended and joined by a more sophisticated sonic dimension, and other unknown virtual investigations.  Just as overt issues of non-linearity have given way to overt issues of visuality, visuality as a concentrated focus will become dwarfed by something else as electronic forms continue to develop.  One day we will move on to an era where the machines allow high-resonance, instantaneous sound transfer, as well as voice-response control mechanisms.  Electronic texts (and discourse) will adapt to whatever circumstances integrated media invite, ideally leaving our hands and mouths free to do whatever they want.
        My fellow panelist Jim Rosenberg has been critical about hypertext on multiple accounts.  [See "Openings:  The Connection Direct", "Notes Toward a Non-linear Prosody of Space", "Poetics and Hypertext:  Where Are the Hypertext Poets?", and "A Conversation with Jim Rosenberg".  The following terms in quotes here are implemented by Rosenberg in various writings.]  I like to imagine the Jim Rosenbergs of the future (whose textual conglomerations themselves in fact may not be the work of a single individual but rather a team of associated artists), a person or persons who understand and implement "morphemic" textuality to serve as an "association structure for thought."  It is easy to project that their form of "Direct Access Communication" will aspire to further Rosenberg's.  Their post-DreamWeaver, non-mouse, notebook or keyboard senses of  "precomposition", becoming the network, "diagrammatic syntax", "reservoirs", "simultaneity", and "externalization", where "textuality is signifiers in motion", will inevitably desire to include midi- (or digital acoustic) soundtracks and who knows what kind of graphology.  Beyond questions such as access and permission for production, will they have the "tools" with which to actualize their ideas?
        A verbally (or otherwise sensorially) cued hypertext program with a gestural interface which embodies layers of dynamic alphanumeric text along with equally dense layers of sound and imagery does not exist yet!  To watch and absorb text in such a way will be part of popular literacy in a post-data glove world.  In his 100th conduction, Butch Morris led an ensemble comprised of three small orchestras from Turkey, Japan, and the U.S. at once through an emotionally charged improvisation where each musician was poised to play at a moment's notice according to Morris' direction.  As Morris does on stage, I want to be able to do at the screen, both as "author" and "reader".  Morris' conception emphasizes,         Polynoise, "an Information Abstracts for the ElectroMagnetic Spectacle/Radical Codes for Brainwave interference", is a manifesto of sorts, set in frames with a sidebar index to shortish and medium length exposés on the condition of electronic and network arts ported at the qazingulaza web site.  Below the POLYNOISE frame, a text reads:  "the xerbudox noise machine is still undergoing research & development.  in the future this window will be a point & click hyperlinked sound collage."  I consider this apologetic "under construction" notice as a metaphor for the project of electronically networked "writing" at present.


—Christopher Funkhouser
paper presented at
Pittsburgh, PA
22 June 1998

Work Cited

Joyce, Michael.  Of Two Minds:  Hypertext Pedagogy and Poetics.  Ann Arbor:   University of
        Michigan Press, 1995.

Kac, Eduardo, ed.  Visible Language 30.2,  New Media Poetry:  Poetic Innovation and New
        Technologies.  Providence:  Rhode Island School of  Design, 1996.

Morris, Butch.  Testament:  A Conduction Collection.  New York:  New World  Records, 1995.

Polynoise.  Online.

Viola, Bill.  Reasons for Knocking at an Empty House:  Writings 1973-1994.   Cambridge:  MIT
        Press, 1995.